Dungeons…No Dragons…2 Kings…and a Few Castles
As the bus took us to the top of the hill, JoAnna, Thaedra, Tim, Mark, Jackie, Jennifer(s), Chet and the crew heard the sultry voice sing the words from his enduring 1961 hit from Blue Hawaii “But I can’t help falling in love with you.” (You’re welcome…now that song will be in your head all day). The doors opened and we had arrived at Graceland Even for non-Elvis fans, it is a place to behold. Time seems to stand still inside its doors.
A throwback into Americana, this Memphis landmark makes you realize how this man shaped our culture—more people watched him in the first live televised concert than watched Neil Armstrong take the first step on the moon & he was the first singer to earn a cool $1 million for a film. I have travelled quite a bit and highly, strongly recommend this nostalgic, quirky, fun place as much as any place I’ve seen.
It is probably a fair statement to say most people believe Elvis died very rich and extremely famous. By today’s standards is that true? One thing you absolutely learn about this talented American entertainer and philanthropist is that he denied himself nothing. He was the King of Rock & Roll and Graceland Mansion was his castle.
Today we visited the church of St. Peter Gallincatu. Built on a steep hillside of Mount Zion, this is known to be the accurate historical location of Jewish high priest Caiaphas’ palatial home. You remember this guy. He’s the one who sent Jesus back and forth between himself and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, during Passover. Neither Caiaphas nor Pilate wanted to “stir the pot” and compromise his comfortable, powerful position.
I love this picture (below). Standing here gives tremendous perspective, both present day and historical. In the foreground is the Church- a melting pot of Judeo-Christian history; in the distance is the separation wall dividing Israel & Palestine. Just beyond the wall is the town where Mary, Martha and Lazarus where lived. In Bethany Christ raised Lazarus to life and explained to the sisters the importance of each one’s work.
Being here makes faith real. A lot happened here. Gospel meets humanity here. Jesus told Peter he would deny Christ 3 times before the roster crowed at dawn. All four gospels report that this happened (in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ home). I If you can get past all don’t the surrounding the authenticity of most Holy Land sites to consider Peter’s denial occurred here, it becomes a very sobering thought. By the way, there is no historical archeological doubt the the Jewish High Priest resided on this piece of property.
How many times in a day do my actions or do my thoughts deny my faith or deny Christ?
Note to self: need to work on this!
Peter’s denial shows us what people do, but what about what God does? To seek the answer is to step deep into the basement dungeons of this building. Having been excavated from centuries old buildings (Byzantine churches once stood here to commemorate the site of the House of Caiaphas), historians and archaeologists alike determined there to be a network of dungeon prisoner cells underneath this building. Hewn out of bedrock in the mountain side you descend into guardrooms, cells with stone pillars and bowls carved into floors, and hardware used to hold prisoners tightly to the walls.
Although debate remains, many believe Christ, the King of the Jews, spent His last night in this dungeon cell before finally being arrested before crucifixion. Unlike the time a pilgrim spends trodding the Via Dolorosa and walking through Holy Sepulcher, this dungeon prison is neither a visual nor sensual feast. Rather, it focuses one’s attention on one thing: death. Standing in the prisoner’s cell and considering you could be standing on stone floor where Christ stood the final hours of His life; well…., there are no words…none.
In 2016 my friend, Brandon Dirks, was with us in this space and read us the scripture from the Gospels about Christ’s last night on earth. The words he read were narrative about the events that took place in this very space. I do not know how he was able to get through it.
You may have read those lists of celebrities who are worth more dead than alive. They include people likes Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Michael Jackson, and absolutely, the King…that hunka hunka burning love, Elvis Pressley. But more important than Elvis’ money (which they say has grown from the mere $10 million at the time of his death to several hundred million now…depending on what you read…thanks to Priscilla’s hard work) is his legacy and enduring, classic work. It probably helps that the guy has his own channel on Sirius XM channel radio, too! The point is, Elvis’ fame and fortune are much greater now than when he was living. And although Elvis Pressley was simply an entertainment pop culture icon, his case study makes an easily understandable segway for the historical growth of Christ’s story. It was after Christ’s earthly life that His story was spread by his disciples and followers…that His bride, the Church, was born and grew.
The lesson from St. Peter today is twofold. First, like Peter how am I denying God in my life? And second, after Jesus was no longer physically with us on earth His story spreads, His legacy endures, His dominion reigns.
What will we do for God today, to affirm Him and not deny Him? Dawn is coming.
Final thought: to anyone who has ever participated in Walk to Emmaus, in this place the term DeColores never becomes more poignant and real.